All kids are born with a sense of compassion. Watch a 3-year-old raise his arms to have you pick him up and then nestle his head in the crook of your neck and hug you. That’s compassion. Watch your 2-year-old offer a crying baby a comforting toy or her hand. Catch your 5-year-old consoling a pal who has just been walloped by a playground bully. That’s compassion, too.
“Children naturally look for ways to make a contribution and help others,” Deborah Spaide, founder of Kids Care Clubs, a national organization based in New Canaan, CT, which provides information on community-service projects for youngsters, told Parenting magazine. “But, just as we give our children opportunities to use their legs when they’re learning to walk, we need to give them opportunities to exercise their charitable muscles, so they become really good at giving, too.”
Teaching your children about charities can be rewarding for both of you. Learning about giving and helping others, gives children a feeling of empowerment. A great way to reinforce charitable values is to make giving a family activity.
Saving money and donating it may be too complicated for kids to understand. “It’s hard for kids to grasp that the money is going to, say, buy bread, which in turn will help feed 10 homeless people,” said Spaide. “Many children can’t take the process with many steps forward in their minds.”
There are many ways a child can learn the value of giving. Below are just a handful of ideas to help teach your children about charities and the gift of giving.
- Donate clothes and toys. Go through your closets and pull clothes you haven’t worn in a while and donate to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Encourage your children to do the same. Let them select which clothes or toys they want to donate. The value of this activity is diminished greatly if you go through their closets for them without their presence. For maximum benefit, get your children involved in choosing the appropriate items. Take your children with you when you drop the items off.
- Help neighbors. Regularly engage in a service-oriented project. Help the elderly couple next door. Bake cookies for the postman. Bake bread and deliver it to the homeless shelter in your community.
- Give blood. Take your children with you so they see you as a model for giving. Talk to them about why you choose to donate blood and how it can help people.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter. For kids 9 and up, volunteering to serve meals at a homeless shelter can show them there are people in the world who don’t have a place to live or money to buy food and need help.
- Turn a disaster into a gift. Disasters are opportunities to build compassion. After seeing news reports about natural disasters, ask, “What can we do?” Organize a drive or go to door to door to collect supplies or money for others.
- Pick a charity. Talk as a family about who you’d like to help and why. Let the kids pick a charity they’d like to help, if they’re old enough.
- Be someone’s eyes. Volunteer to read to the blind. Let older children read, while the younger ones cuddle and turn pages.
- Play at the pound. Volunteer to play, clean, and feed pets at a rescue shelter.
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